Seton-La Salle girls' team finding old success under new coach
In some ways, it's a “new look” Seton-La Salle High School girls' basketball team this season. In other ways, it's the same old Lady Rebels.
What's new is the head coach. John Ashaolu, a former college player and coach, is in his second year as Seton-La Salle's athletic director. He replaced Dennis Squeglia, who resigned prior to the start of this season.
But what resembles Seton-La Salle teams of the past are the results. The Lady Rebels improved to 3-0 after defeating defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Mt. Lebanon, 58-51, on Monday night.
The Lady Rebels were 30-0 last year, winning both the PIAA and WPIAL Class AA championships.
What makes the start so impressive is the wins have come against powerhouses, some from larger classifications.
Before the Mt. Lebanon game, Seton-La Salle beat North Catholic and Oakland Catholic — both traditional powers — in the Oakland Catholic tip-off tournament.
“When the schedule was being put together, I was the athletic director, and it looked good on paper,” Ashaolu said.
“Then, when I was put into the head coaching position, I thought ‘What was I thinking?'”
Ashaolu believes in playing the stiffest competition possible because it makes any team better.
“I told them, this is why you come to Seton-La Salle, to play in games like that. To play in that atmosphere,” he said. “I want to get tough games under their belts, and stack the schedule up front. I'd rather have that than an easy schedule. It teaches you, early, what you need to work on.”
Overall, Ashaolu likes what he sees on his squad, which has four starters back from last year's state title team.
“I think the strengths of this year's team are experience, our chemistry on and off the court, and versatility,” he said.
However, like any good coach, he's more focused on what his team needs to do to improve. Against Mt. Lebanon, Seton was up by as many as 19 points.
“We just started playing into their hands and putting them at the line,” Ashaolu said. “Something we lack right now is that killer instinct.
“We definitely need to improve playing defense. They're so used to playing full-court press and getting after it, we tend to overdo it ... I want this team to pride itself on making defensive stops. Part of that is also communication, we need to communicate on defense.”
Ashaolu believes in rotating eight players into a game. This season, those players have been seniors Angela Heintz and Natalie Piaggesi; juniors Katherine Hart and Naje Gibson; sophomores Cassidy Walsh, Morgan Henderson and Nicolette Newman; and freshman Shaunay Edmonds.
“As far as experience, even though we are kind of young in terms of age, we have some girls who have played and performed well in some big games,” Ashaolu said.
The Lady Rebels' floor boss has plenty of experience in the sport of basketball. A native of Toronto, he was a standout high school player and began his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans.
After two years, Ashaolu transfered to Xavier University of Louisiana and played two years there.
He coached high school and AAU basketball in Toronto after college, then enrolled at Duquesne University. He earned his master's degree in sports leadership, and was a graduate assistant coach on the basketball team.
He had hoped to coach his brother, Sam Ashaolu, a highly regarded Duquesne scholarship player. But Sam was injured in the tragic on-campus shooting at Duquesne in 2006, and he never did get to fulfill that dream.
After finishing his studies at Duquesne, he went on to serve as director of basketball operations at East Carolina University. While at Duquesne, Ashaolu met his now-wife, Ashley.
Before long they moved back to Pittsburgh, and Ashaolu landed the athletic director job at Seton-La Salle.
“Everything is going well,” Ashaolu said. “I have surrounded myself with a great staff: Tiffany Joyce, Ian Barrett and Patrick Phillips. Patrick and I having some experience coaching at the college level. So when we're teaching the girls the game, they know we are speaking from experience.”
The Seton-La Salle girls' nonsection game against Villa Maria Academy that was scheduled for Saturday has been moved to Jan. 19.
The Lady Rebels' next contest is slated for Monday at Brentwood. It will be the section opener for both squads.
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.